Reserving Seats on the Bus for Others

Question

Zevulun is planning a bus journey to the North. His friend, Asher, intends to accompany
him but will board the bus at a later stop. The bus is likely to be full by the time it
reaches Asher’s stop. Is it permissible for Zevulun to hold a seat for Asher?


Answer

Reuven owes money to Shimon and Levi. Yehudah goes and seizes some of Reuven’s
property on behalf of Shimon. In Tractate Bovo Metzia (10a) we are told that
Yehudah must return the property to Reuven. Through seizing property on behalf of Shimon,
he has unlawfully denied Levi the opportunity to reclaim his debt from Reuven. Does the
same principle apply to acquiring an abandoned item of lost property (which is
Halachically considered ownerless) on behalf of a third party? Is one not denying other
potential claimants their right to this item? The conclusion arrived at is that in this
case acquisition for a third party is valid. Why is this different? Tosafos explains that
in the case of an abandoned article, the finder could acquire it for himself. This also
gives him the right to acquire it on behalf of others. The Ramban draws a different
distinction. In the first case, both Shimon and Levi have a lien on Reuven’s
property. When Yehudah seizes some of this property on behalf of Shimon, he is thereby
disturbing Levi’s lien. On the other hand, no individual possesses a lien on ownerless
property, as its name implies. Therefore, claiming such an item on behalf of a third party
does not present a problem.

When traveling on a fare-paying bus, each ticket-holder has purchased a right to be
transported from place to place, occupying a seat, if one is available (see Choshen
Mishpot
198:6). Reserving a seat on behalf of a passenger who has not yet boarded the
bus (and therefore not yet bought a ticket) can only be valid as long as there are seats
available for all other passengers who are already on the bus. However, no passenger has a
right to a specific seat. As long as there are other seats available, Zevulun can reserve
a seat for Asher. Once the bus is full, he has no right to deprive existing ticket-holders
of their right to a seat. The only way he would be permitted to hang on to the extra seat
would be if he bought two tickets when he boarded the bus – one for himself and one
for Asher! Two tickets = two seats. He could always give up his own seat to Asher, despite
the fact that earlier passengers are left standing, since he could have remained seated.

If bus transportation is being provided for free, the situation is different. Since no
individual has bought a ticket, no person has a "lien" on a seat. Therefore,
according to the Ramban, there would be no problem in reserving a seat for another person
even if the bus was already full. This case is comparable to acquiring lost property on
behalf of a third party. Tosafos would not agree to the comparison. A person could acquire
the lost property for himself and is therefore entitled to claim it on behalf of other.
When travelling on a free bus service, each passenger can only "claim" one seat.
He has no right to the second seat that he is reserving for his friend. It is advisable to
conduct oneself according to Tosafos’ stricter opinion. (Reserving a seat is
halachically achieved by placing an item of property on the seat – a hat or bag etc.
– see Nesivos Hamishpot 306. Note 1.)

THEREFORE, if Zevulun wishes to be sure of legitimately
reserving a second place for Asher, he should buy two tickets when he boards the bus. If
he does not do so, he may only continue reserving the seat as long as there are seats
available for other fare-paying passengers who are already on the bus.